The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have ignited curiosity about America’s past and present foreign policy among UW-Madison students. Many students watch CNN and read the newspaper to stay informed, but the university also plays a role in current-events education.
Neither the UW history department nor the political science department changed their general curriculum after the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; however, many professors addressed the issue.
“Except for conversations among some of the department members when we encountered one another, there was no departmental discussion of what any of us should or should not be teaching in our courses,” UW history professor Stanley Schultz said.
Within the political science department, professors were not divided over course content. Assistant professor Jon Pevehouse said the professors kept each other informed on issues and opinions in the world community.
A few professors have made shifts in their lesson plans.
“Teaching a course on international political economy which focuses on the [variability] of globalization, it has been, tragically, all too easy to incorporate the hell of Sept. 11 into the course,” professor Edward Friedman said.
Others have taken a different attitude toward their class content. Pevehouse said he spent a day and a half discussing the situation with his students and plans to add a lecture on the topic towards the end of the semester.
“My own opinion is that it is essential to discuss these things with students,” he said. “But not necessarily in the context of ‘know this on the exam’ ? that is a bit too much.”
Some professors say they have not made any changes and do not plan to.
“If events render ‘business as usual’ inappropriate or unimportant in the light of a national emergency, I would favor a suspension of the normal class schedules,” Schultz said.
Many students agree that talking about the issues surrounding the attacks help them understand America’s predicament.
“My ‘Women in Politics’ professor put together a lecture on the history of Afghani women and how they struggled over the years to gain equal rights,” UW senior Jessica Solloway said. “I gained a better perspective about what has gone on before the attacks and how people there are responding now. I wish more of my professors would have addressed the issue.”
Although some professors chose not to discuss the terrorist attacks, many have simply emphasized information they were already planning to lecture about.
“I regularly discuss foreign perceptions of the United States while also trying to assess for the students the accuracies and inaccuracies of those perceptions based on what this nation has accomplished or failed to accomplish,” Schultz said.
In light of Sunday’s U.S. attacks on Afghanistan, students expressed curiosity about how the attacks will be added to their classes.
“I’ll be interested to find out how [my professors] will address this issue,” UW senior Ben Durham said. “This is another huge new chapter in American history, and I would be appalled if they ignored it.”